North Ronaldsay North Ronaldsay

North Ronaldsay

The island's unique seaweed eating sheep, an Old Beacon featured on prime time television and the flight path for thousands of migratory birds have all helped put North Ronaldsay on the map.

It’s a small island and the most isolated and northerly of Orkney’s populated isles which has preserved a distinct cultural tradition; loved by visitors and residents. It has one of the most well attended Harvest Homes anywhere in Orkney and a strong community spirit.

North Ronaldsay sheep are an ancient breed which are kept on the foreshore by a 13-mile drystone wall known as a dyke and live mainly on seaweed. They are allowed on pasture only during lambing and are managed by a sheep court of islanders. Their mutton is prized by top chefs and a mutton run, using the idea of the Beaujolais run, took carcasses to Edinburgh and London.

The Old Beacon was built in the 1780s to warn ships of the infamous rocks of Reef Dyke. It is one of the earliest lights in the country and was featured on the BBC’s Restoration programme. It didn’t win the top prize money but it won the Scottish heat and the project to restore it and associated buildings continues.

Nearby is the more recent Stevenson lighthouse which has guided tours through the North Ronaldsay Trust. Former lighthouse buildings have been converted into upmarket self catering units, a café and a woollen mill, using fleece from the famous sheep and selling garments and throws. The Trust also manages a modern house in the island aimed at attracting new families and keeping the school viable. It's hoped the development of more tourism attractions will create new jobs. Other facilities include a post office and the Old Kirk where island photographs and documents are displayed.

The North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory offers accommodation and the opportunity to record the fantastic array of native and migratory birds heading for Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia. As well as a good spot for a huge number of species and rarities, North Ronaldsay has recorded pods of passing killer whales and pilot whales, as well as porpoises and dolphins - and even a walrus in 2013! A standing stone and broch and other prehistoric settlement remnants can be seen on the island.

There is a weekly car ferry from Kirkwall on Fridays and flights every day.

Inside Explore Orkney

Tankerness House Gardens at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall


Orkney's capital dates back to Norse times, in the 11th century, when it was called Kirkjuvagr (Church of the bay).

A view of Stromness from Brinkies Brae - image by Fionn McArthur


Stromness poet and author George Mackay Brown once wrote that the town's 'streets uncoiled like a sailor's rope from North to South'. Quaint closes and narrow old streets huddled between stone buildings of historical interest is the delight that is Stromness. Orkney’s second largest town is an architectural gem that inspires artists and writers and is a favourite with visitors.

Sunrise over Mull Head in Orkney - image by Rick Fleet

East Mainland

The area east and south east of Kirkwall is cattle country, with low lying and fertile farmland. Although the East Mainland doesn't have a World Heritage Site, it does have its own nature reserve, sea caves, beaches, historical sites and attractive villages to explore.

Sunrise over a west mainland loch in Orkney

West Mainland

Orkney's West Mainland hosts a collection of some of the finest archaeological sites to be found anywhere in Europe. It's home to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site, and welcomes thousands of visitors every year.

This wind turbine was one of the first installed in the east mainland


Burray is a small island linked to the east mainland of Orkney and South Ronaldsay by the Churchill Barriers. Once only accessible by boat, the farming and fishing community is now linked forever by the causeways.

Hoxa in South Ronaldsay has spectacular views over Scapa Flow

South Ronaldsay

After you cross the fourth and final Churchill Barrier, you'll arrive in the largest settlement outside Kirkwall in the east, the attractive harbour village of St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay.

A view of Red Head and the Calf of Eday


Eday is at the centre of Orkney’s North Isles and has a rich heritage and history to explore, as well as being at the forefront of research for the modern renewable energy industry.

Wartime defences at Stanger Head in Flotta


Flotta is an island that has changed much over the years. From its role at the very heart of Orkney's military history to the building of the Flotta Oil Terminal in the 1970s, it has always played an important part in our economy and heritage.

Looking across to the Kame in Hoy

Hoy and Graemsay

Hoy is Orkney’s second largest island and dramatically rises from the sea with mountainous moorland and glacial valleys, appearing more like a highland landscape than a typical Orkney low-lying island.

At the pier in Papa Westray

Papa Westray

Take the world’s shortest scheduled flight and see northern Europe’s oldest house on one of Orkney’s smallest inhabited islands with a big community heart.

Rousay boasts a spectacular coastline - image by Max Fletcher

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre host some of Orkney's most magical archaeological and historical sites - with ancient brochs, cairns and tales of Vikings.

An aerial view of the Holms of Ayre in Sanday


Sanday by name and sandy by nature, the largest island of Orkney’s North Isles has beautiful sandy bays and dunes, turquoise seas and a gentle, fertile landscape.

A view of Balfour Castle in Shapinsay


Shapinsay is only a 25-minute ferry ride from Kirkwall but the atmosphere of this small Orkney island can be soaked up even before you step ashore.

A view across to Whitehall pier in Stronsay


Stronsay is a beautiful island to visit and live on with magical sandy beaches backed by dunes, a stunning coastline and a main settlement with grand houses dating back to the herring fishery days.

A view of the Rapness ferry terminal at the south end of Westray


Westray is known as the Queen o’ the Isles and is a vibrant place to live, work and visit.